cover of book

The Health of the Commonwealth: A Brief History of Medicine, Public Health, and Disease in Pennsylvania
by James E. Higgins
Temple University Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-1-932304-33-6 | Paper: 978-1-932304-69-5
Library of Congress Classification R313
Dewey Decimal Classification 362.10974811


“The history of medicine in Pennsylvania is no less vital to understanding the state’s past than is its political or industrial history,” writes James Higgins in The Health of the Commonwealth, his overview of medicine and public health in the state. Covering the outbreak of yellow fever in 1793 through the 1976 Legionnaire’s Disease epidemic, and the challenges of the present day, he shows how Pennsylvania has played a central role in humanity’s understanding of—and progress against—disease.

Higgins provides close readings of specific medical advances—for instance, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered the polio vaccine—and of disease outbreaks, like AIDS. He examines sanitation and water purification efforts, allopathic medicine and alternative therapies, and the building of the state’s tuberculosis sanitaria. Higgins also describes Native American and pre-modern European folk medicine, the rise of public health in the state, and women’s roles in both folk and scientific medicine. 

The Health of the Commonwealth places Pennsylvania’s unique contribution to the history of public health and medicine in a larger narrative of health and disease throughout the United States and the world.

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